Parents struggle as schools reopen amid coronavirus surge

Shannon Dunn has to report in person to her job this week as a cafeteria manager at at elementary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but she has no idea what she'll do when her daughter starts kindergarten with online-only instruction.

As a new school year begins this week in some states, Dunn, like many working parents, is struggling to balance her job with her child's school work as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause upheaval in school districts around the country.

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Dunn's East Baton Rouge school district has asked school employees to begin work this week, while students are set to begin virtual classes next week. School officials have said they hope to begin in-person classes after Labor Day.

“My family works. I have no one I can take her to and say, okay, at 12 o'clock you are going to have to start working online with her for school,” Dunn said.

Parents in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee are among those who will be the first to navigate the new academic year as schools open up in parts of those states this week.

Sanitation Procedures to Send Kids Back to School

A custodian wipes down a hallway doorway at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School building in Boston's Mattapan and for the reopening of school on July 9, 2020. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In Indiana, where schools reopened last week for the first time since a pandemic-driven nationwide shutdown in March, a student at Greenfield-Central Junior High School tested positive for the coronavirus on the first day back to class. School Superintendent Harold Olin told The Associated Press that the student was tested for the virus days earlier and attended school before receiving the results. The student was isolated in the school clinic, while school nurses worked to identify other students or staff who may have had close contact with the student.

“This really does not change our plans,” Olin said. “We knew that we would have a positive case at some point in the fall. We simply did not think it would happen on Day One.”

Schools in Hawaii were supposed to reopen Tuesday, but the teachers union led a move to delay that until Aug 17.

Most schools in the state are planning a hybrid approach, with students alternating between attending in-person classes and online instruction. Some schools will have full in-person instruction for younger grade levels, but only a handful of schools will offer a full-time, in-person return.

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Many school districts around the country had offered parents a choice of at least some in-person classes or remote instruction. But an uptick in COVID-19 cases in many states has prompted school districts to scrap in-person classes at least for the start of the school year, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington.

Dunn said she hopes her daughter will be able to attend in-person classes at her school after Labor Day. But even if she does, that will not ease her mother's mind completely.

“I'm definitely going to worry," Dunn said.

"I will send her to in-person classes, but if I hear of the spread of COVID at the school, then I'd have to rethink it all over again."